This article will provide a glimpse into Japanese convenience store culture, and how these pillars of Japanese society strike awe in the hearts and minds of foreigners who live in or visit Japan.
As the author, I have lived in and traveled around Japan for a total of eight years. So, in addition to providing general information, I will also provide my experiences of frequenting these stores.
Convenience Stores in Japan, “konbini”
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve likely visited a Japanese convenience store, or “konbini” as they are known. Found across Japan, nearly on every other street corner, these stores are a huge part of everyday life in Japan.
These chains offer a wide range of products and services, from a convenient place to buy cheap and healthy ready-to-eat meals to a place to pay your bills, convenience stores play a big part in the daily life of people living in Japan.
While living in Japan, convenience stores became a happy place for me. Whether you need to pay your electric bill, buy a pair of socks, fried chicken, coffee, a notebook, vitamins, or a drink on a night out. Convenience stores have it all, and for a cheap price!
In the U.S., convenience stores seem to tack on an extra couple of dollars no matter the item. The price for convenience… I never felt this way in Japan.
The secret behind the enduring popularity of these stores lies in their commitment to providing unparalleled convenience. Open 24/7, konbinis are always ready to cater to customers’ needs, no matter the hour. This accessibility fosters a sense of reliability and dependence, cultivating a habit of frequenting these stores.
These unassuming establishments are more than just a place to grab a quick snack or a cup of coffee; they are an integral part of Japanese culture and a testament to the nation’s commitment to customer service.
You may notice that 7-Eleven as well as Lawson are both companies that originated in the U.S. and later entered the Japanese market. These stores are vastly different from their U.S. counterparts, by localizing their brands and customer experience to the Japanese market, they have become widespread and extremely popular!
Lawson has disappeared from the U.S. market but is still very popular in Japan.
The Ritual of Convenience
My first snowy winter in Japan was when I lived in Fukushima City, a small, bike-able city in the Northern “Tohoku” region of the country. In winter the streets tended to freeze over, so I traded in my daily 5-minute bike ride for a 15-minute walk.
To combat the winter chill, I picked up a habit of stopping in at my local konbini and grabbing a hot latte for about 200 yen, less than USD $1.50. The convenience, low cost, and high satisfaction of this ritual made me love my commute and my local convenience stores.
It’s not just me, for many, visiting a Japanese convenience store becomes more than just a transaction; it becomes a ritual.
Whether it’s the familiar chime that greets you upon entering, the neatly arranged shelves, or the friendly staff, each visit elicits a sense of familiarity and comfort. The customer experience is overwhelmingly positive.
For some people, convenience stores are a daily part of their life! Not everyone visits a convenience store daily, however, roughly half of the population admit to visiting convenience stores more than once a week. Source. 60% of visitors visit convenience stores to buy ready-to-eat food items including bento boxes for lunch.
To meet the needs of their customers, convenience stores offer a large selection of items that are clearly marked, creating a seamless user experience.
Japan’s Unparalleled Customer Service
What sets Japanese convenience stores apart is the meticulous attention to detail in their offerings. The diverse range of products caters to various needs, from fresh produce and pre-packaged meals to household essentials and unique seasonal items.
No matter your dietary restrictions, you are sure to be met with a wide variety of options. You can even find an array of personal hygiene and health items for sudden emergencies. This careful curation and forethought align with the Japanese concept of “omotenashi,” or wholehearted hospitality, aiming to exceed customer expectations.
“Omotenashi” can be seen across Japan services, from hotels to gas stations, restaurants, and, of course, convenience stores. The best way to explain this concept is with the word “decadence.”
A level of quality and care that may only be found in the West among the wealthiest of spheres, but in Japan, it is available to people of all economic statuses as a part of their daily life.
Even convenience store checkouts provide an incredible user experience by allowing customers to pay with over 20 different methods to pay when they visit!
Marketing Campaigns aimed at Fan Communities
Convenience stores in Japan excel at offering compelling promotions that draw in fans seeking to purchase products packaged with their favorite characters and celebrities.
By jumping on trending media and executing swift collaborative marketing campaigns, convenience stores can keep products fresh and interesting.
Interested in reading more about the importance of fan building for companies and the power of marketing to fan communities? Check out part one and part two of a recent interview that discusses these topics and more.
For example, when the Japanese Manga, Anime, and Video Game, “Uma Musume Pretty Derby,” was trending, FamilyMart created a collaboration campaign to draw in fans and bring in customers to purchase branded products.
The campaign included collaborative colorful packaging adorned with the popular animated characters. Some products even include collectible items for fans. This campaign at FamilyMart was extremely successful, with many posting reviews of the products on social media and in YouTube videos.
Similarly, 7-Eleven had a marketing campaign featuring the characters from Nintendo’s Super Mario franchise. This campaign was held during a boom in the popularity of Nintendo in Japan thanks to the grand opening of Universal Studios’ Super Nintendo World and the Super Mario Bros. 35th-anniversary.
Another example from the konbini chain Lawson featured characters from the hit series “Kimetsu no Yaiba” or “Demon Slayer.” This campaign also featured banners and limited edition products to entice fans and consumers to stop by.
Seasonal Products Keep Customers Interested
In addition to collaborations with popular media, seasonal promotions that are tied to events and holidays, further drive engagement.
The limited edition nature of these products draws a lot of excitement, similar to the “Pumpkin Spice Latte” season at Starbucks in the U.S., is it common to see seasonal products regularly cycled in and out of Japanese convenience stores.
Cherry blossom-themed products in the spring, and Halloween-themed products in the fall are two popular seasonal product trends. If you look closely, you’ll notice that even some widely known international brands participate by creating seasonal products.
The Sakura-themed drink by Starbucks that is pictured above is a great example of brand localization or product localization that can appeal to local consumers.
I was a huge fan of the Pumpkin Pudding from 7-Eleven when I lived in Japan so it was one of the products that I looked forward to the most.
In Japan, the changing of the seasons holds a lot of cultural significance with the various community festivals that celebrate the changing of the seasons. It shows that convenience stores are especially in tune with Japanese culture in the way that they provide this extra outlet for communities and consumers to celebrate the seasons.
In a world where convenience is key, Japanese convenience stores have mastered the art of catering to their customers’ needs.
By providing a flawless customer experience, diverse and localized products, strategic promotions, and an atmosphere of reliability, these establishments create more than transactions – they weave a tapestry of trust and loyalty that keeps customers coming back, day after day.
As we navigate an increasingly fast-paced world, the lessons from Japanese convenience store culture remind us of the power of simplicity, community, and the genuine human touch in building brand loyalty that stands the test of time.
Would you like to learn more about the fascinating nuances of Japanese culture and branding? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to uncover the secrets behind the success stories and lessons that shape the vibrant world of marketing and beyond.
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